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Obama pledges reporters won't go to jail 'for doing their job'

President Obama pledged Friday that U.S. journalists wouldn’t go to jail “for doing their job,” as his push for press freedoms in China and Burma prompted new questions over his administration’s handling of a New York Times reporter facing prison for refusing to reveal his sources.

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Obama said there was an “iron-clad” rule against the president directly commenting on ongoing criminal investigations but reiterated Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderAlarm grows over Trump team's efforts to monitor polls The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements Obama endorses Warnock in crowded Georgia Senate race MORE’s pledge that “no journalist is going to go to jail for doing their job.”

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed James Risen, a national security correspondent for the Times, demanding he testify in proceedings against former CIA operative Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is accused of leaking classified information about intelligence operations within Iran to Risen.

Obama said, in the U.S., “we have to constantly balance the need for certain national security issues to remain secret with journalists pursuing leads wherever they can.”

The issue of press freedoms gained particular attention during the president’s stop in China, where the White House successfully pushed Chinese President Xi Jinping to participate in a press conference alongside Obama. The White House then allowed a reporter from the Times, which has seen its journalists barred from the country after exposing top official’s vast wealth, to ask a question of the Chinese leader.

"I was impressed Mark Landler got an answer to his question from President Xi. It might not be the one you were expecting, but he did end up taking the question," Obama said. "You just keep on chipping away, you see, and you make progress."

The president said he had also stressed the need for additional press freedoms with leaders in Burma, saying government control of the press “undermines not only the society, but it leads to eventual encroachments on individual rights as well.”

"I'm pretty blunt and pretty frank about the fact that societies that repress journalists ultimately oppress people as well. Societies that are free and vibrant and successful, part of that formulation is the free from of information which requires a free press," Obama said.